If you plan to visit Shanghai, there is a building that you should not miss. Its official name is Moller Villa, named after Eric Moller, a Jewish resident of Shanghai in the early 20th century. When I had a seventeen-hour layover last week, I decided to stay there overnight—it has since been converted into a hotel. Located on South Shanxi Road in the former French foreign concession area, Moller Villa is a sight for sore eyes. It may seem out-of-place to the virgin traveler. In the midst of modern apartment buildings, shopping centers, and a lot of traffic noise—this villa is a tranquil place of relaxation.
According to local legend, Eric Moller built this Villa for his beloved daughter in 1936 after she had conveyed her dream of having a fairytale castle. Moller was a Swedish-British merchant who first came to Shanghai in 1919. After much success in the shipping business, he became well-known in Shanghai elite circles and a member of the notorious Shanghai Race Club. He invited many different architects to design the Villa to become his own private residence. The end product is a hybrid-fusion style that includes Western and Eastern architectural elements.
The building today still stands in its original condition, protected by the local Shanghai government. At the entryway to the villa, there is a plaque that explains its current status in Shanghai. The plaque states in English and Chinese that it is an “Important Monument under the State Protection.” Not bad for an almost-decade old foreign structure. The villa itself is a mix of browns and reds intermixed with a layered-brick feel. The pointed rooftops give the boxy rectangular structure a much-needed softness by drawing the eyes from the ground to the Shanghai skies. Two traditional Chinese lions flank the front steps providing an interesting mix of East and West styles.
A small garden covers the area to the mansion’s immediate side and back area—easily accessible from the front door and back porch of the restaurant area. A small creek flows through the miniature garden flanked by tall hundred-year-old trees. The wooden foot-bridge takes you from one side of the garden to the other—transporting you through the world the Moller family built.
Once you step inside the main hotel area, if feels as if you are living in Europe. The tall stained-glass windows are covered in nature designs of greens, pinks, and shades of gray and black. Elaborate crystal chandeliers reflect the outside sunlight throughout the check-in area. Lush upholstered couches lay opposite of the wooden check-in area—welcoming guests to a villa fitting for a gentleman and lady. Photographs of the Moller family, his horseracing, and the villa’s stories in Shanghai history line the walls.
Next time you are in Shanghai for a 24-hour layover or longer ;-), try exploring Moller Villa and add it to your itinerary. It is a gem of a sight for the modern age.